Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Sirens driving you mad? It’s not just you:

Brussels collective demands less siren noise.  It’s difficult to complain about a source of noise when it has social utility, like siren noise.  Sirens are obviously necessary to clear the road of obstructions when an ambulance is racing someone in distress to the hospital or a fire truck is speeding to a fire.  But there are times when sirens are employed unnecessarily.  This writer has experienced the sleep-ending scream of a siren after midnight on a weekday and before 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, times when the major road nearby is not jammed with traffic.

So we were happy to hear that Stop Sirènes, a Brussels collective that “is urging police and other emergency services in the Brussels-Capital Region to be more “sparing” in their use of sirens,” made some headway.  Asserting that “sirens are too often used unnecessarily,” the collective took its plea to the region’s environment minister who has ordered a study into siren use.

While New York City has been more receptive to addressing noise complaints, unnecessary siren use remains a problem. For those of you who live in New York City, please consider signing this sensible Change.org petition directed to Mayor Diblasio: Lower the volume of Ambulance sirens in New York City.  Thank you.

 

What’s wrong with a noisy world?

For one very thoughtful answer read Olivia Parker’s article, “‘In Pursuit of Silence’: the film that says we need more quiet in our lives.”

Parker’s article starts with her review of “In the Pursuit of Silence,” a new film about the impact of noise on our lives and the movement to bring silence back into our everyday world.  She finds the film “both calming and jarring to watch.”  It “opens with near-silence,” she states, “four minutes and 33 seconds of it, to be precise, in honour of John Cage’s experimental composition 4’33, in which performers sit in silence for that length of time.”  The film then combines “30-second-long static camera shots of scenes and their sounds – a tree in a field, a petrol station at night, a motorway – with interviews with people involved in the consideration of sound and silence all over the world.”  Parker notes that it is “the first major film to be made about noise pollution – and for those who have been calling for a quiet revolution for years, it’s a much-needed step towards a more sound-balanced world.”

Parker’s review acts as a conversation opener to a deeper exploration of the pervasiveness and dangerousness of noise and the healing power of silence.  The query “how noisy are we now” is followed by a litany of aural abuses, focusing mainly on unavoidable transportation sounds–noise from airplanes, street traffic, and the Tube–but addng that respite cannot be had by ducking into a nearby restaurant for a nosh and some peace.  Parker looks at the consequences of living in a noisy world and they are not good.  She catalogs noise’s negative affect on one’s spirit, mood, ability to learn, and wellbeing.

The focus on our noisy world is followed with a look at the benefits of quiet, examining how it calms, increases productivity, and may even help our brains grow.  Parker concludes by examining how we can get more silence in our lives, highlighting the work of Quiet Mark, a UK company that “awards a badge of “quality” to brands that meet particular sound requirements,” and reviewing eight everyday appliances that have been awarded Quiet Marks.

The world could be a quieter place, we learn, if only all designers considered noise avoidance as important as durability, efficiency, or style.

There’s so much more in this article, so click the link to read it all.

LInk via Antonella Radicchi @firenzesoundmap.

 

The Greatest Threat to Our National Parks?

It Might Be Noise Pollution.  Max Ufberg, writing for Outside, introduces us to Davyd Betchkal, the National Park Service’s soundscape specialist in Alaska, who studies the parks’ natural acoustic environment to determine “the ecological impacts of human-made noise.”  In doocumenting all 54 million acres of Alaska’s parks, Betchkal stated that two things are clear:

[S]ound is crucial to the health of plants and wildlife and everything from airplanes cruising overhead to the roaring of snowmobiles on the ground or the muffled ring of an iPhone in a jacket pocket affects—and often disrupts—the ambiance of our most precious natural areas.

Ufberg adds:

To be clear, in the context of natural places, birdsong isn’t noise; the buzz of an airplane is. Sound, by contrast, is a protected resource under the Park Service’s foundational Organic Act of 1916 as part of the profile of a natural environment. According to an estimate by Park Service senior scientist Kurt Fristrup, a national park goer hears human-created noise, much of it aviation-related, during about 25 percent of his or her visit.

“Noise is just as ubiquitous and broad in its impacts on the continent as air pollution,” Fristrup says.

Ufberg points outs that noise is linked to cardiovascular disease and elevated blood pressure, among other ills, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency classified noise as a pollutant since 1970.  “While [noise] poses a greater risk in cities,” writes Ufberg, “it’s increasingly become an issue in nature, too.”

Click the link to learn about how noise harms wildlife and how the Park Service is working to protect them and us from noise pollution in our national parks.

Just in time for “National Protect Your Hearing Month”:

New research shows young adults at risk for hearing loss.  ABC7NY reports on New York City Health Department data showing that “40% of adults ages 18 to 44 visited loud venues at least a few times per month, [and] 41% of teens who listen to a personal music players with headphones 10 or more hours a week said they listen at maximum volume.”  Both activities, the Department cautions, puts people at risk for hearing loss.  Says Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, “[l]istening to your headphones at high volume or attending loud concerts, restaurants and bars regularly can take a toll on a person’s health and hearing,” and she cautions that technology, in particular, makes it too easy to be exposed to potentially damaging sound.  The Department advises parents to talk to their teenage children about avoiding hearing loss down the road, and suggests sensible measures for limiting exposure to punishing sound.

Thanks to Charles Shamoon for the link.

October is National Protect Your Hearing Month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an announcement about National Protect Your Hearing Month, stating that it is “a time to raise awareness about the causes and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.”  Noise-induced hearing loss “can result from occupational noise exposures, leisure activities such as sporting events or concerts, or use of personal listening devices.”  Whatever the cause, it is permanent and irreversible.  More importantly, noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable.

The CDC notes that noise-induced hearing loss affects people in all age groups. During 2001 to 2008, one in five Americans over the age of 12 years had hearing loss in at least one ear, and one in eight had hearing loss in both ears.  The CDC adds that prevalence of hearing loss is expected to increase.

To learn more about hearing loss and what you can do to avoid it, click the link for access to resources prepared by the CDC and the National Center for Environmental Health, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D. for the link.  Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

No surprise here:

Noise levels in nightclubs may induce hearing loss.  News Medical reports that a new study raises concerns about the noise level in nightclubs.  So, how loud are nightclubs on average?  The study shows that “the average continuous level of noise in some nightclubs is at least 91.2 dBA (A-weighted decibels).”  Should you be concerned?  Well, the study also shows that “[c]lub goers may suffer noise-induced hearing loss from just one night out on the town.”  In short, the answer is “yes.”  Click the link for more.

A fascinating read about the weaponization of sound:

When Music Is Violence.  Alex Ross, writing for The New Yorker, reports on the use of extremely loud noise in psychological-operations and warfare.  The American public was introduced to this tactic in December, 1989, when the military employed it in Panama, blasting “non-stop music [to] aggravate [Manuel] Noriega into surrendering” after he was expelled from power and took refuge in the Papal Nunciatura in Panama City.  Although the “media delighted in the spectacle”, both “President George H. W. Bush and General Colin Powell, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took a dim view of it.”  Despite a lack of enthusiasm for weaponized noise at the top of command, the use of loud music as a weapon has increased. “[D]uring the occupation of Iraq the C.I.A. added music to the torture regime known as “enhanced interrogation,” and the tactic has also been used in Guantánamo.

Ross looks at the intersection of music and violence, noting that when “music is applied to warlike ends, we tend to believe that it has been turned against its innocent nature.”  He states, “[s]ound is all the more potent because it is inescapable,” and notes how technological development has led to long-range acoustic devices that “send out shrill, pulsating tones of up to a hundred and forty-nine decibels—enough to cause permanent hearing damage.”  The discussion turns darker as Ross examines the “music sadism” pioneered by the Nazis, and draws the thread to Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Mosul, and Guantánamo, where “the loud-music tactic displays a chilling degree of casual sadism: the choice of songs seems designed to amuse the captors as much as to nauseate the captives.”  And there is more.

Do click the link above.  The article is thought provoking, disturbing, and absolutely worth reading.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D. for the link.  Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Yes, you can put a dollar figure (well, euros) on the impact of noise:

The (VERY) high cost of noise.  Acoustic Bulletin writes about a study published last June by the French Agency Against Noise (Conseil National du Bruit) and the French Environment Agency (ADEME), where the two agencies tried to estimate the total cost of noise pollution in France.  In the end, they determined that the cost was 57.2 billion euros in social costs.  Yes, that billion.  So what was included in this impressive figure?  The study focused on six categories of noise:

  • Impact of traffic noise on health
  • Indirect costs of traffic noise (for example, on real estate)
  • Workplace accidents and hearing loss caused by occupational noise
  • Distraction in the workplace and productivity loss
  • Impact of noise in educational premises
  • Impact of neighbourhood noise

At 18 billion euros, the study shows that the cost of open plan offices is very dear.

Which makes us pause and wonder about the cost of noise pollution is in the United States, which has a population about five times larger than France but no Agency Against Noise.

 

 

Here’s some cultural appropriation we can get behind:

A look at Switzerland’s and Germany’s strict noise laws for Sundays and holidays.  How just how strict are these noise laws?  How does “no lawn-mowing, no drilling, hammering, sawing, or even heavy trucks on the roads” sound?  Like music to our ears!  Except, of course, no loud music either.  According to The Wayfarer,  it is “also advisable to keep the noise down (and we mean way down) between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. to avoid complaints/fines,” adding that noise complaints are “such a big deal in these cultures that there are attorneys specializing in noise law.”

Good to know our cultural norms haven’t taken over everywhere.  What we wouldn’t give to see Switzerland’s and Germany’s approach to noise adopted in the U.S.

Link via @NoiseFreeZone.

Real estate survey shows number one complaint about neighbors

is noise.  Real estate firm Trulia surveyed users about “neighbor pet peeves” and found that noise was the number one pet peeve, and that millennials were more likely to complain about noise than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.  In fact, the survey showed that 83% of millennials identified noise as their biggest pet peeve, while only 71% of Gen Xers and 54% of Baby Boomers did.  So much for the belief that noise is something that only older people complain about.  it would be interesting to survey millennials about noise in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, since restauranteurs apparently believe that loud restaurants are bustling, convivial, and perceived as “lively and successful,”  rather than uncomfortable, challenging, and painful.